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How Underrepresented Minority Engineering Students Derive a Sense of Belonging from Engineering

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

It Takes a Village: Engineering Beyond the Classroom

Tagged Division

Minorities in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.674.1 - 23.674.20



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Paper Authors


Elizabeth Litzler University of Washington

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Elizabeth Litzler, Ph.D., is the Director for Research at the University of Washington (UW) Center for Workforce Development (CWD) and an Affiliate Assistant Professor in UW Sociology. She directs research projects from conceptualization, methodological design, collection of data and analysis, to dissemination of research findings. Dr. Litzler manages the Sloan-funded Project to Assess Climate in Engineering (PACE), which uses quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the culture for women and underrepresented minorities in 22 engineering colleges nationwide. She also directs the external evaluation for the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT). In addition to her leadership in the office, Dr. Litzler is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) and a Board Member of Women in Engineering ProActive Network (WEPAN). Her research interests include the educational climate for students in science and engineering and gender and race stratification in education and the workforce.

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Cate Samuelson University of Washington

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Cate Samuelson is a Doctoral Candidate in Education and Leadership Policy Studies at the University of Washington. She also works as a Research Assistant at the University of Washington (UW) Center for Workforce Development (CWD), where she conducts qualitative research and analysis on the Project to Assess Climate in Engineering (PACE) project. Her research interests include P-20 school-community relations and community capacity building/development in low-income urban and first-ring suburban environments, supporting low-income students in accessing quality educational opportunities and experiences, and providing pathways and supports for low-income students and other underrepresented groups to pursue STEM-related careers. Her dissertation study is focused on the role that a community-based organization plays in connecting recent immigrant families living in low-income environments with the schools their children attend. She has worked as a Research Assistant and an Independent Research Consultant on a variety of projects, including those focused on educational leadership, STEM education, and academic and social supports for disadvantaged students.

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New Session Topic: How do Underrepresented Minority Engineering Students Derive a Sense of Belonging from Engineering?Proposed Topic Area: New research and trends related to underrepresented minorities inengineering Feeling overwhelmed by the workload, pace and conceptual difficulties can be a commonexperience among undergraduate engineering students (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). Ethnicminority students may face additional challenges, such as differences in ethnic/cultural valuesand socialization, internalization of negative stereotypes, ethnic isolation and perceptions ofracism, and/or inadequate program support (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Tate & Linn, 2005).Further, due to typically small numbers of minority students and faculty in engineeringprograms, students may lack peers, faculty role models and mentors (Seymour & Hewitt, 1997).Feelings of difference can result in students lacking a sense of belonging, which can influenceconfidence in completing an engineering degree (Marra et al., 2012; Tate & Linn, 2005).Students’ social integration into the college environment, such as their relationships with peers,can influence their ability to establish and access support networks, and can contribute topersistence in engineering programs (Cole & Espinoza, 2008; French et al., 2005; Huang &Brainard, 2001; Marra et al., 2012; Tate & Linn, 2005). Racial and ethnic minority students whoare integrated into the college environment through various means can find supports such asfriends with similar backgrounds, advice from advanced students, and role models and advisors,which can positively influence academic performance (Anderson & Kim, 2006; Cole &Espinoza; May & Chubin, 2003).This study offers important insights into the sense of belonging of African American, Latino, andNative American students in undergraduate engineering programs, which can contribute to bettersupporting, retaining and graduating these students. Specifically, we seek to better understandthe different ways that under-represented minority engineering students find a sense of belongingat engineering schools, and how it might contribute to their ability to persist.This qualitative inquiry, which is part of a larger research project funded by the Alfred P. SloanFoundation, known as the Project to Assess Climate in Engineering (PACE), focuses on makingsense of the realities and experiences of undergraduate engineering students and thusincorporates an interpretive perspective (Merriam, 1998). Semi-structured one-on-one interviewswere conducted with participants in the autumn of 2008 and spring of 2009. This study analyzedinterviews with thirty-four underrepresented minority students ranging in age from 18-28.Preliminary analysis indicates that being a member of a cohort, living in an environment withother engineering students, and participating in minority-oriented organizations and/orprofessional societies can play a role in helping underrepresented minority engineering studentsfind a sense of belonging, which can ultimately contribute to their persistence in engineeringundergraduate programs. In the research paper, each of these areas will be described in greaterdetail using the students’ own words.Cohorts provide opportunities for students to connect with one or more students who are takingthe same classes and have similar course loads, which helps them meet friends and peers whocan provide a sense of community as well as academic support. Living Learning programs andengineering floors/dorms provide similar benefits as the cohorts. These programs connectstudents with advanced engineering students who can act as advisors or mentors. MinorityOrganizations, Sororities/Fraternities & Professional societies provide ways to meet otherminority students who can act as sources of social and academic support, provide culturalconnections, and encouragement to persist.ReferencesAnderson, E. L., Kim, D., & American Council on Education. (2006). Increasing the success ofminority students in science and technology. Washington, D.C: American Council on Education.Cole, D., & Espinoza, A. (2008). Examining the academic success of latino students in sciencetechnology engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors. Journal of College StudentDevelopment, 49(4), 285-300.French, B. F., Immekus, J. C., & Oakes, W. C. (2005). An examination of indicators ofengineering students' success and persistence. Journal of Engineering Education, 94(4), 419-425.Huang, P.M. & Brainard, S.G (2001). Identifying determinants of academic self-confidenceamong science, math, engineering and technology students. Journal of Women and Minorities inScience and Engineering, 7, 317-339.Marra, R. M., Shen, D., Rodgers, K. A., & Bogue, B. (2012). Leaving engineering: A multi-yearsingle institution study. Journal of Engineering Education, 101(1), 6-27.May, G.S. & Chubin, D.E. (2003). A retrospective on undergraduate engineering success forunderrepresented minority students. Journal of Engineering Education, 92(1), 27-39.Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. SanFrancisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass.Seymour, E., & Hewitt, N. M. (1997). Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave thesciences. Boulder, Colo: Westview Press.Tate, E.D. & Linn, M.C. (2005). How does identity shape the experiences of women of colorengineering students? Journal of Science Education and Technology, 14(5/6), 483-493.

Litzler, E., & Samuelson, C. (2013, June), How Underrepresented Minority Engineering Students Derive a Sense of Belonging from Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19688

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